Yoel Romero is crafting himself quite the storybook of violence, his latest being his best. A third round finish of Lyoto Machida in which Romero was never troubled and only grew stronger as the fight went on. That’s the kind of stuff to put fear into the hearts of fighters at 185 lbs. It capped off a fun enough main card of action (and a pretty boring undercard), for a night of fights that saw a ton of last minute changes for the UFC. Even with all the visa problem madness, I went 6-3 on fight picks.
Disclaimer Time: If I had been a betting man, Yoel Romero would have been the man to win money off of here. Otherwise there wasn’t a lot to be made from a lot of close/tossup fights, especially ones on short notice where you’re just not sure what fighter is going to show up. Even when I do well, I can rarely muster the regret to feel like I should gamble the next time around. So, I don’t. This is just an exercise, using odds and pre-fight picks to weigh expectation with performance and see what can be learned. I’m using Odds Shark for the odds on each fight and taking the mode for each fighter. Now, on to the fights!
Sirwan Kakai (-105) vs. Danny Martinez (-120) (I picked Martinez, I was wrong)
The Expectation: With fighters like this, it’s easy to get a bit simplistic. There aren’t a lot of parts of either guy’s game that I love, but Martinez has a style I could get my mind around, so it was easier to pick him to win. Thing is, as he’s demonstrated before, Martinez isn’t actually good at that style, and outside of that, Kakai proved to be the much more well rounded fighter.
Fallout for Kakai: Kakai got a great start to his UFC career and it’s a long time coming. He was lucky in that he got just the perfect matchup to show off his well rounded, action oriented game. Better athletes (or simply more skilled ones) will probably give him all kinds of trouble, but this fight got him in the door and it got people interested.
Fallout for Martinez: His UFC days are almost certainly over and unless Martinez has a late surge he’s going to hit, he’s probably just reaching the end of his prime as well. That’s a tough place to be in, but at this point he’s not really competing at a level the UFC needs.
Steve Montgomery (+100) vs. Tony Sims (-120) (I picked Sims, I was right)
The Expectation: It’s always tough being a fan of a fighter you think is going to lose hard. That’s kind of where this fight put me. I like Montgomery, but Sims is exactly the kind of guy that finds the holes in the Creepy Weasel’s game and exploits them. That’s just what he did, to the tune of a first round KO.
Fallout for Montgomery: It’s not that Montgomery needs a step down in competition (after all, there aren’t many places to go from a short notice UFC newcomer), but he definitely needs a different style matchup, and some consideration as to just how much he needs to work on his defense. Montgomery suffers from classic tall fighter problems and he’s worked on solving those, but this fight just showed they’re still right there.
Fallout for Sims: What a UFC introduction! Given the right match-ups and an active schedule, and Sims could be just the kind of action fighter the UFC loves. He’s got great hands, good power, and enough diversity to make himself a problem for a good portion of his division. I won’t be sold on him as more than a fun, mid-card guy until I see him face a more well rounded, athletic fighter, but I’d be surprised if Sims wasn’t headed for a lot of really good fights under Zuffa.
Lewis Gonzalez (+165) vs. Leandro Silva (-190) (I picked Gonzalez, I was wrong)
The Expectation: I really thought that Gonzalez’s superior technical wrestling, coupled with Silva’s inactivity would get him the win here. And honestly, on my scorecards, it almost did get him the win. Every time Silva tried to take him down and grind him, Gonzalez reversed position with relative ease and beat him up a bit. Eventually, Silva’s better athleticism led him to land the bigger, harder shots and get takedowns, giving him the win. But, personally I thought the fight was essentially even.
Fallout for Gonzalez: In one sense, tangling with a hulking fighter like Silva on short notice and competing for the whole fight is really solid work from Gonzalez. But, beyond his ability to chain wrestle well and his busier ground and pound, Gonzalez’s striking ability looked even less impressive than it had back in WSOF. Silva’s not an easy fight, but he is a fighter that wasn’t going to test Gonzalez much outside his core skills. Against a more active, consistent striker, Gonzalez might have come away a lot worse.
Fallout for Silva: He’s kind of perfected the style he’s always had, or if not perfected, made it as good as it can be. He’s still low output, but he throws with real power and way more accuracy now. His offensive wrestling is better, but he’s still not a complicated wrestler. And he’s not much more than a passable grappler. But, he’s huge and he’s tough and he’s not bad at anything. He’ll be a tough fighter for most guys to beat.
Joe Merritt (+340) vs. Alex Oliveira (-450) (I picked Oliveira, I was right)
The Expectation: As high as I’ve been on Oliveira, I really hoped to see him style on Joe Merritt. Because of that, this was something of a crash back to reality. Oliveira is still a fun fighter and decent talent, he didn’t struggle much with Merritt. But, his skills are super raw, and he’s got a lot to work on before he’s competitive at a higher level.
Fallout for Merritt: The biggest takeaway for him here is that he’s really an exceptional athlete and with enough time at a good camp he could turn into a good fighter. He started late, and I’m not 1000% sold on Millennia MMA for talent development, but the basic tools are there to make a very good fighter.
Fallout for Oliveira: Especially considering Merritt’s relative inexperience and low output, it’s not a good sign that Oliveira essentially bailed on his striking. It was the center point of his game regionally, and for his last two fights he’s used it as little as possible. The plus side is that he’s a good enough offensive and defensive wrestler to keep winning that way, but I’m not sure how he’ll do against even reasonable striker/grapplers.
Hacran Dias (-145) vs. Levan Makashvili (+125) (I picked Dias, I was right)
The Expectation: There shouldn’t be much controversy here. Makashvili really didn’t deserve the split decision, even though he did exceptionally well down the stretch. Either way it was a good loss for him (in that any loss can be good) as it gave him lots to work on, without knocking his confidence way back. On the flip side, It doesn’t build any confidence in Dias’ run of form at all.
Fallout for Dias: He won another fight, but it’s hard to look at the top 10 of FW and see a fight he wins. Dias has been a great athlete and an incomplete fighter for a long long time. And he’s still a great athlete and a more complete fighter, but in some sense I think the game has passed him a bit. Most notably, he’s not a dangerous striker at FW and he’s not a heavy submission threat. So he has to be the hard worker that wins every round. Tough to make a serious run like that.
Fallout for Makashvili: As I said above, this was a good loss. There’s no reason that a fighter like Makashvili should beat a fighter like Dias, at this point in their respective careers. If Makashvili had been a few more years along, this might put some kind of ceiling on him, but at the moment it should just show him he has to work harder to implement his game earlier in fights.
Steve Bosse (+155) vs. Thiago Santos (-180) (I picked Santos, I was mostly right)
The Expectation: I’m not entirely sure why I thought this would take longer, but I did. Bosse and Santos both have a long string of first round finishes behind them. However, unlike Bosse, Santos has actually been fighting and improving lately. To go with his unchecked aggression, he’s actually got some technique on his strikes now. Easy pick to make.
Fallout for Bosse: Maybe coming out of retirement wasn’t the best idea. I mean, that’s not exactly fair, but Thiago Santos isn’t exactly cream of the crop at 185 and he dusted Bosse in just 30 seconds. Of course, an early KO like this is the very definition of getting “caught,” but I wouldn’t blame Bosse if it were also a sign that there are better ways to use his time.
Fallout for Santos: If you’d asked me before the Ronny Markes fight, whether I thought Thiago Santos could ever be a legit talent in the UFC, I’d have said no. Aggressive strikers without much wrestling or grappling or striking technique don’t tend to do well long term. But, Santos has persevered. Some good matchups have been a big part of that, but it seems like he’s really used his time to become a more technically proficient fighter. He throws good technical strikes now and maintains range, and still has his high output. That could make him a very dangerous action fighter at 185.
Antonio Carlos Jr. (-170) vs. Eddie Gordon (+140) (I picked Carlos Jr., I was right)
The Expectation: This seemed like the kind of fight where Gordon would start strong early and either gas out, or get cracked and go into full wrestling mode, where he would find out that Carlos Jr. is a way way better grappler than him. Instead, Carlos Jr. just beasted him around the cage for 14 minutes of total domination and then choked him. Great showing for Carlos Jr., but way less competitive than I’d expected.
Fallout for Carlos Jr.: This was proof positive that his loss to Patrick Cummins was more about bad fight IQ and a bad matchup than it was actually being a bad fighter. Carlos Jr. is a powerful pressure fighter who constantly works to beat his opposition. Against a powerful wrestler, that meant that he got put on his back over and over. Against Gordon it meant he dominated. With his size at 185 (and a relative lack of power wrestlers) It’s not hard to see Carlos Jr. Going on a run toward the top 15.
Fallout for Gordon: This probably spells the end of the UFC road for another TUF winner. He’s gone 0-3 since winning the finale against the recently released Dheigo Lima, and if anything he seems to be regressing as a talent. Last time out, his diet was pinpointed as the problem. But he looked strong and in shape for this fight and I think it’s time to come to terms with the idea that he’s just not great at any aspect of fighting yet. He may be, some day in the future, but right now, he’s not competitive.
Lorenz Larkin (-174) vs. Santiago Ponzinibbio (+150) (I picked Ponzinibbio, I was wrong)
The Expectation: When I looked at this fight I made an executive decision in my brain. That decision was that Larkin’s win over John Howard was essentially meaningless in trying to figure out where he was as a fighter. Given that, I had a fighter with three straight losses and four in his last five all to guys who it seemed like Ponzinibbio could replicate. It turns out that Larkin has improved since those losses, and that Ponzinibbio may have some unforeseen problems.
Fallout for Larkin: He’s quietly getting better. And I say quietly, because mostly he’s improving what he was already good at. Larkin has always had decent movement and steadily improving combination kickboxing. His output has gone up a lot since his Tavares loss, but he’s still the same basic fighter, just a better version. The footwork means he’s getting hit less, right up until he’s in a fire fight, at which point he still gets hit a lot. This win showed that Larkin may finally be capable of winning the bouts he’s supposed to consistently, but it doesn’t sell me that he’ll be a top 5 guy.
Fallout for Ponzinibbio: The big takeaway for the Argentinian is that his winning or losing fights may end up having a lot to do with athletic ability. When he’s the faster fighter, he can show more diversity and less predictability, as he did against Sean Strickland. But Larkin made him look slow and plodding and revealed a lot of technical holes in his offense. Ponzinibbio is dangerous, he’s aggressive and he hits hard, but Larkin was better at his own game.
Lyoto Machida (-170) vs. Yoel Romero (+145) (I picked Romero, I was right)
The Expectation: I thought this fight might be brutal and short, with Romero storming Machida, much like Rockhold did and finishing him early. The actual fight was almost more impressive as Romero went strike for strike with Machida at range, opened up holes in the Dragon’s striking game and then finally just bodied him to the ground and polished him off. It was an absolutely complete performance from Romero and suggests that he’s really just hitting his peak potential.
Fallout for Machida: Aging is hard, especially in sports, and especially in MMA where one of the few holdovers from traditional martial arts culture is this belief that fighters can improve constantly forever. Fans and fighters seem to have a mental gap about just what age means and just enough fighters have defied the odds (some chemically) to make the rest think they’ll be an exception. Machida is falling off. Not hard, but enough. He’s a little slower, a little less sharp, and for a game built on maintaining range and footwork, that’s bad. He can still compete and win, even in the top 10, but he’s not a contender anymore, and probably never will be again.
Fallout for Romero: If he hadn’t mucked up his post fight speech with a bunch of questionable (at best) rhetoric, this would be the definitive moment of Yoel Romero’s career. Athletically, it still is. He looked amazing in the cage, every bit the cartoon-character-made-man that fans think of him as. Romero is in a three way title contention tie right now and who gets it could easily come down to timing and circumstances over anything else.
Those are my collected thoughts from UFC Fight Night: Machida vs. Romero. As always, so much of what I wrote seems obvious now, but that’s the benefit of hindsight. Until next time, when I’ll be talking why Conor is still featherweight’s biggest star, with or without a win over Chad Mendes!
*This week’s quote adapted from the movie Candyman.